November 25, 2012
There is nothing like the thrill of the hunt. Searching online at home is fun, but there is much more out there. Eventually you will need to take that trip and research at the state archives, county courthouses or even one of my favorites, the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake. Knowing what you will encounter at these sites is necessary.
You must make preparations before you leave. Be aware that each of these facilities operates differently and their resources vary. Get the address, hours of operation, and double check to establish that they will be open the days of your visit. A phone call will determine what you need to expect upon entering the facility. Some only allow a pencil and paper into the search area while others allow computers. Do secure it with a cable lock and have it password accessible. Do they allow scanning of documents, pictures using a cell phone or photocopying? Find out if you can access each needed recorded immediately or if there is a time period before pulling the documents from a storage site before having them on hand at the facility. You may run into this problem at the FHL as well as other sites.
Determine where your ancestors lived to successfully research in the proper jurisdiction. Next, resolve the correct county in which they lived at the time. If they lived near the county line then their records may be in either county. In some areas in early times, when a large river separated the ancestor from the county seat, then it is possible during extreme weather conditions that your ancestor went to another more accessible courthouse. If their property straddled more than one county, then records should be found in those counties.
Decide who or what your top research priority is and get to that first upon arrival. Using Excel make a research plan where you list your objectives and what you want to learn. Make a list showing what you already know about the subject and then what conclusions you hope to acquire. Create a list of sources available at the research site you hope to use. Then organize your research procedure so you do not spend all your time on one difficult task after another. Design it so you search the top priority first, then something that would be easier to find followed by a difficult one. Lastly, go online to the facility’s website to research the catalog for items that might have your needed information.
A simple research log is easy to design in Excel. Enter the days of the week or dates you will be researching, the name of the person or topic to research, the county, state, and records to search such as deed books or birth records and the library call number or microfilm number. The next cell should show whether you found anything or not.
Researching on site is thrilling and can be a turning point to widen your research. Planning is crucial and lessens the difficulty. Before you go, investigate the facility, organize the attack with a research plan and stick to it by sprinkling easy finds throughout the day rather than filling the days with tough challenges only.
SPONSORED CLASSES AT GENEALOGY LIBRARY: On November 28 from 10:30-noon, those researchers interested in the hidden uses for your research should attend this free class on the subject. The speaker is Douglas Fugate. There will be no library-sponsored classes in December.
WASHINGTON STATE RECORDS AT RISK: Those searching in Washington State please be aware that the health department is proposing births be inaccessible for 125 years and marriage, death and divorce be unavailable for 50 years. The decision could be made on December 5. Any record closing is devastating for genealogists.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.